Greenwich golden: GHS soccer team captures FCIAC title [SLIDESHOW]

UPDATED: Thursday, Oct. 31 at 12:50 p.m.: The Greenwich High School boys soccer team finished their business in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

After exiting last year’s conference tournament earlier than they hoped, Big Red took the league by storm this season and capped it off with an FCIAC championship, beating Ridgefield High School 4-1 earlier tonight at Norwalk High’s Sam Testa Field.

“This feels fantastic,” GHS senior captain Jonathan Palmer said. “I’ve known all these guys since I was 10-years-old and this is the best feeling in the world. We finally got to all win a trophy together. Ridgefield was pressuring us and were getting some shots on goal, but we responded really well. Every single person on the field played really well. It was an amazing feeling.”

While junior Paul Quiroga and senior Will Gittings each found the back of the net once for Big Red, it was a sophomore that came up huge. Nicholas Bartels scored two goals and was named the FCIAC championship game Most Valuable Player.

“This was a thriller,” Bartels said. “These were the best two teams in the FCIAC and it showed tonight. We came out here with the strict mentally of possessing the ball. They are a pressuring team and play a quick counter-attack, so our defense did a really good job preventing it and keeping the ball. I was on JV last year and was well-aware of this unfinished business situation. There are 22 seniors that I am working with and they all want to win really bad. It was there time to win.”

“We didn’t find our game all game,” Ridgefield head coach Phil Bergen said. “We played to their strengths. With their tall players, we tried to play high balls when there shouldn’t be high balls. We didn’t find our game. There were some moments of really nice soccer that we displayed, but we quickly fell back into panic mode.”

For head coach Kurt Putnam, this was a dream-come-true, as this is his first FCIAC championship since the 2007 season.

Big Red's Ellis Frank gets by the Ridgefield defense during Wednesday night's FCIAC championship game in Norwalk. — John Ferris Robben photo

Big Red’s Ellis Frank gets by the Ridgefield defense during Wednesday night’s FCIAC championship game in Norwalk. — John Ferris Robben photo

“Last year was so close and since then they termed this year unfinished business,” Putnam said. “I was thinking that it was going to be a tall order, so I hope to God that we get back there and scribble out that ‘un’ bit. Now they are going to get shirts that say ‘finished business’ on it. It’s great for them. Credit to all the boys out there because they deserve it. They sacrificed and left it all out on the field.”

In a game that pitted the No. 1 Cardinals against second-seeded Ridgefield, it was Greenwich that pressured early and got the 1-0 advantage.

Quiroga was charging down the field and noticed the RHS goalie came a long distance out of the net. Although the original shot was saved, Quiroga was able to get the rebound on the far side of the net and blasted the shot with a clear look at the net for the 1-0 lead with 32:00 left in the first half.

“I am speechless right now,” Quiroga said. “This was an amazing win for us and I couldn’t be happier. We came into this season knowing we had to dominate, and we did, but in that one tie we had was against Ridgefield and we knew we could have played better. We came out really strong, pressed them and when we scored that first goal, it boosted our confidence. Getting that first goal is so crucial. Against Wilton we had the first goal and it got our confidence up. When you play such a high-scoring team, the first goal is so important.”

Still pressuring, Big Red added to its lead. Off a corner kick by senior Mateo Gowland, Gittings was sitting in the far corner of the net and was able to get a head on the ball and redirect it into the top left corner of the net for the 2-0 lead with 18:07 left in the half.

“It feels great right now because Greenwich doesn’t get to win many FCIAC titles,” senior GHS goalkeeper Santiago Irigoyen said. “It’s a great achievement. We lost to Ridgefield last year in the FCIAC semis and tied them this year in the regular season, so we were determined to win this today.”

Although the Cardinals were up 2-0, Ridgefield wasn’t backing down. With 8:59 left in the half, Killian Clancy had a long kick towards net that missed the net by mere inches.

The Tigers stayed persistent and cut the lead in half with 1:58 to play in the half, as Adam Findlay fired a shot at net from 20 yards out that beat Big Red’s Irigoyen.

“We came up against a really good team,” Putnam said. “They are very well-coached and you knew exactly what they were going to do. I think, for me, watching them against Stamford in the FCIAC semis helped out a lot because they didn’t do that in the first game we played them this season. We soaked up their pressure and in the second half I thought we played a really hard game. We made tackles and limited them to very few opportunities.”

For Bergen, this wasn’t the first time his Tigers scored at a critical times late in the first half.

“That’s the way this whole season has been,” Bergen said. “In three or four games, we were in this same situation and we came up strong. We thought we do that again. Everybody was pumped at halftime, but again, we didn’t find our game. We played high balls everywhere and at this level you have to play your style, not to their strengths.”

Although the Tigers had momentum heading into the second half, the Cards were able to withstand the pressure. With 25:29 left and Ridgefield pressuring, Ryan Casolo had a free kick from 35 yards out but the ball was went over the crossbar and over the leaping Irigoyen.

With 15:59 to play, Greenwich’s Bartels had a golden opportunity to score, as he got the ball on the run and fired a 10-yard shot, but the ball sailed wide. However, three minutes later, Bartels would get his revenge, as he got the pass from Gittings and scored to put GHS up 3-1 with 12:31 left.

“When we scored that third goal, we thought we had it,” Irigoyen said. “We still had to keep up the intensity and not give up an upset. I think third goal sealed it because 2-1 is basically 0-0 with (Ridgefield).”

Bartels added the fourth four with 2:15 to play in the game. With the goalie out of position, Bartels was able to find the opening and tap the ball in the back of the net for the 4-1 lead. The play started when GHS senior Evan Tesei made a stellar pass to keep the ball moving down the RHS defense.

With the victory, Greenwich improved to 17-0-2 on the season and will get a first-round bye in the upcoming Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference class LL tournament.

“Every year, you hope as a coach you’re going to have a chance to play for the trophy, but this is for the players,” Putnam said. “I’ve coach nine of them at the club level since they were 11 and we won two state championships as a club team. It was always built to what can we do when we get to high school.”

Check back here later tonight or tomorrow morning for photos from the FCIAC championship game.



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